Cardona Connecticut Education Reform Miguel U.S. Department of Education

Meet Miguel Cardona, Soon to Be Secretary of Education

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The Connecticut Mirror wrote a revealing in-depth analysis of Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona’s life, career, and education ideas.

His meteoric rise has been well documented. He grew up in poverty. He started public school in Meriden, Connecticut, not speaking English. He saw education as his route to a better life.

He became a teacher, then a principal, then assistant superintendent of the Meriden district of 8,000 students. From there, he was tapped to become State Commissioner of Schools.

From the outside, the Meriden Public Schools system looks like a network of struggling city schools.

The state has designated it an Alliance District and one of the “lowest-performing districts” since more than one-quarter of the students are multiple grades behind in English, math and science. It is also an economically isolated district that spends 30% less per student than the state average despite three-quarters of its students coming from low-income families. And the school ratings often used in real estate listings don’t look favorably on the district, either.

This is where Miguel Cardona — President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to become the next U.S. education secretary — grew up and spent 21 years of his 23-year career as an educator. And his experiences there — his battles and the district’s successes — will likely be front-of-mind as he coordinates policy for all the public schools in the country.

Cardona has never put much weight into titles, and he has grown used to defying low expectations set upon him and his students.

In Meriden, it meant broadening opportunity by opening access to advanced-level courses to drastically more students, embracing the Common Core standards and the accompanying tests that raised the bar for where students should be academically, providing emotional support and interventions for students acting out rather than suspending them, and setting up programs to help more high school graduates navigate to college.

Cardona also took the lead in Meriden to fine-tune controversial education reforms aimed at teacher accountability that were being pushed onto his district by state and federal officials into a model that the local union eventually supported.

Meriden’s results are ahead of most districts’ throughout the state on arguably the most important benchmark — the share of students who meet their growth targets and are on track to catch up or stay ahead.

Statewide, 33% of students from low-income families were on track to catch up in English Language Arts, compared to 39% of the poor students in Meriden by the end of the 2018-19 school year, the last year Cardona was the district’s assistant superintendent before becoming state education commissioner. In math, 37% of poor students in Meriden were on track, compared to 34% statewide. The growth of Meriden students also jumps out compared to the state’s 32 other “low-performing” Alliance Districts.

The share of Meriden students from low-income households reaching their growth targets has outpaced state averages nearly every year since 2014-15, when the state first started measuring whether students were on track to catch up.

The leader of Biden’s education transition team, Linda Darling-Hammond, served on a panel with Cardona when he was an assistant superintendent and was very impressed. That meeting was probably the key to his remarkable ascension.

This article provides insight into the educator who will lead the U.S. Depatnentbof Education in the Biden administration.

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